NASHVILLE – Friday’s arrival of August on the calendar also marks the start of National Breastfeeding Month, and that has supporters touting the benefits of mother’s milk, often called nature’s perfect baby food.
Marian Tompson, one of the founders of the La Leche League, said mothers who breastfeed can reduce their risk for diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and some forms of cancer.
And for the baby, she says there is a variety of health benefits as well, such as a stronger immune system, better motor development and a reduction in allergies.
“There have been thousands of studies during the past 50 years that confirm babies are healthier when they’re breastfed,” she said. “And it makes sense because they’re getting the food that was meant for their growth and development.”
Tompson said when La Leche League was founded in the 1950s, fewer than one-in-five mothers started out breastfeeding her baby. Today that figure is 77 percent.
While more mothers are starting with breastfeeding and they are nursing for longer on average, Tompson said there are still too many who quit in those first weeks or months, often because the moms have to return to work and are separated from their babies.
“I think our culture could do things to make it a little easier for those women, with flex-time, with allowing them to have a baby close by where they could get over to nurse,” she said. “And I think we have to appreciate how important breastfeeding is to us all.”
One initiative that is already having a positive impact, explained Tompson, is the growing number of hospitals in the U.S. that are gaining certification as breastfeeding-friendly.
There are now nearly 200 of them across 44 states.